Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
In our view
In the long view, the global turmoil in the past quarter-century has been a slow release from the tension of the Cold War.
Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, dead of cancer after 14 years of rule, certainly saw this. He turned up at just the right moment in South America, and he brought a pride the continent was starving without.
The Cold War locked regional issues into a static balance defined by two superpowers. American perceptions of Soviet skulduggery south of the border led to inconsiderate U.S. policies from White House administrations too quick to cut a deal with whomever promised the most stability and would shut the door on the Soviets, no matter the price in slain dissidents.
It's natural, then, that after the Berlin Wall fell and the superpowers stepped back from their former clients, ethnic tensions flared across the map of Eastern Europe and Islamists grasped for power from Morocco to Mindanao.
Also naturally, South America turned to eccentric leftist-populist-nationalist dream-ideologies that have fascinated it for so long.
Chavez was a force of nature. His rhetoric, when it was coherent and on topic, thrilled the aspirations of millions who hardly had dared to dream before. Yet his methods are a warning in what ought to have been learned in Cuba: The shattering stupidity of attempting to attain utopia by coercion and personality cults.
Despite being the fourth-largest foreign oil supplier to the United States, Venezuela's economy is nearly ruined, thanks in part to Chavez's tendency to treat it as his personal war chest to reward friends and punish opponents.
With backing from the disempowered of his homeland, Chavez destabilized the existing order, only to replace it with arbitrariness and anarchy. Some who had been poor gained much under Chavez, but all was insecure because all depended on the whim of a demagogue.
Laws jerry-rigged for Chavez's needs-of-the-moment leave Venezuela in a chaotic situation upon his death, and even the country's constitutional scholars don't know what the law actually intends should be done now.
Leaders who have visions of blessedness and attempt to attain them with methods of brutalism do their people no favors. It is a path only to the kind of "socialism" that the Cold War was fought against.